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Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Beer Equipment Cos. Tap Into Craft Growth

Sorrento Valley’s Reotemp Instruments makes temperature, pressure and other gauges used in brewing craft beer. Photo courtesy of Reotemp Instruments Corp.

Without brewing a drop of beer themselves, several San Diego County companies — such as dispensing-systems provider TapCraft and temperature-gauging tech maker Reotemp Instruments Corp. — are enjoying the spillover benefits of the region’s still-burgeoning craft brewing industry.

Even as the pace of sales growth slows both locally and nationally, company leaders say there’s plenty of work to do now — and more ahead — serving the basic infrastructure that makes, markets, delivers and serves up those craft beers to the throngs of loyal drinkers.

“It impacts a little bit of everything in terms of business,” said TapCraft principal and founder Michael Peacock, referring to the ripple impacts of craft beer.

Peacock is a 38-year veteran of the beverage industry whose resume includes a stint with Coca-Cola Co., and he’s also an instructor in San Diego State University’s Business of Craft Beer professional certificate program.

He started TapCraft about two years ago in San Diego’s Clairemont neighborhood, and he estimates his company has since installed its customized beer dispensing systems in about half of the county’s more than 140 licensed brewery locations, including brewpubs and tasting rooms, along with other bars and restaurants.

The relatively young company, which does not disclose revenue, employs three to five people on a full-time basis but also works with numerous other independent contractors countywide, handling various supply, installation and delivery matters.

Serving Temperature

TapCraft’s systems often need to be installed to fit the specific type of beer being dispensed — beers that are made from dozens of different brewer recipes countywide, with varying storage and temperature requirements — and new twists have come from the rise of beers and other beverages infused with nitrogen (aka nitro beers). The number of taps, the correct mixing of gases with beer, and other issues come into play.

Peacock said the region’s continued tilt toward locally crafted products has also placed his company’s systems in higher demand from makers of other artisan-style beverages. “We’re getting more business from coffee houses, wineries and the businesses that make and serve kombucha,” he said.

Business Diversification

Craft beer has also been a key business diversifier for Sorrento Valley’s Reotemp Instruments, which employs 75 and has grown its office and customer footprint globally over the past 52 years, generating approximately $12 million in sales for 2016.

Chris Hodgetts

Much of its history has involved making and selling its temperature and pressure sensors, gauges and related monitoring technology to industries such as oil and gas refining, electric power generation, and municipal water treatment.

Over the past two decades, its San Diego setting has given Reotemp a ground-floor entrance into two other growing industries that have helped to round out the historical ups and downs of its other client segments. One is life science, in which it provides key laboratory technology used by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and the other — especially during the past five years — has been craft beer.

Chris Hodgetts, western regional sales manager for Reotemp, said the company’s local connections in the highly collaborative craft beer industry have helped it land not only local customers for it instruments, but also other beer-makers in the U.S. and other countries.

Current trends are likely to stay in place for at least the next two years. “There’s a lot of growth in that industry and there’s always the chance of that slowing down, but we’re still seeing plenty of opportunities to grow our own business there,” Hodgetts said.

Global Footprint

Perhaps the best-known local supporting player in craft beer is Miramar’s White Labs, led by Chris White, which for the past two decades has provided crucial beer yeast and testing services and has also recently spread its business footprint globally. From an infrastructure standpoint, White Labs is credited by many local brewers with helping to make San Diego County into one of the nation’s most vibrant beer hubs.

Peacock and Hodgetts pointed to several other small and medium-sized firms that are helping to maintain the momentum. Those include Escondido’s Premier Stainless Systems, led by Rob Soltys, which provides tanks, keg washers, grain mills and other key brewing equipment; and Miramar’s Beverage Factory, led by Craig Costanzo, another provider of equipment, containers, chillers and package printing.

There’s also Dave Gostenhofer’s Shirts on Tap in Grantville, which produces customized clothing and other items that help promote the brands of local brewers; Rudy Pollorena’s Craft Beerd in North Park, a graphic arts company that puts customized beer logos on caps and clothing; and Mark Murphy’s The Clean Keg in San Diego, which provides mobile keg-washing services.

Peacock anticipates there will be plenty of more business available in coming years for those and other local support companies, along with educators and trainers who help prepare young workers to properly install and operate the latest equipment at local venues — to maintain beer quality and worker safety, among other matters.

And there’s still room for growth in brewer locations locally and nationally, especially as big and small companies gradually boost their footprint by establishing satellite breweries and tasting rooms. Peacock pointed to communities where brewery openings are still in their early stages, particularly in South County and East County locations such as Chula Vista, National City, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley.

“There are plenty of places in San Diego County that are still underserved, especially when you go south of I-8 and south of Route 94,” Peacock said.

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